Linfield manager Warren Feeney yesterday backed Ivan Sproule after he was dramatically dismissed in the Big Two Festive derby against Glentoran at Windsor Park.
The former Hibernian player went from hero to zero. He scored the winner eight minutes from time, but was immediately sent off by referee Andrew Davey after removing his shirt. It was in second yellow in the space of five minutes.
Feeney’s boys battled back after going a goal down - Stephen Gordon shooting Eddie Patterson’s boys into a first half lead.
But Sammy Morrow levelled just before the break before Sproule took a hand. The win keep’s Linfield four points clear of Crusaders at the top of the table. It also helped preserve the Blues’ amazing record of having never lost a Boxing Day fixture against their arch enemy.
“I’m so disappointed for Ivan, but I would never criticise a players for celebrating a goal,” said Feeney. “It’s a stupid rule. The lads did a great job to see out the game over the last 10 minutes or so. I’m so proud of them.”
Linfield are now unbeaten in nine games, but Feeney isn’t getting carried away.
“We are four points clear, but it means nothing at this time of the year,” added Feeney.
“We have a great togetherness in this squad of players. Admittedly we didn’t play well today. But it says a lot about this group by taking three points in such a crucial game.
“Glentoran are a very good side. They are a young team and they want to play football.
“It’s an old cliche. We didn’t play well, but we won the game. We got the result that mattered.”
Linfield were dealt blow before the start when talisman midfielder Aaron Burns limped out of the warm-up, having picked up an injury.
It meant that manager Warren Feeney was forced into a late reshuffle, drafting in Kirk Millar and handing Michael Carvill a place on the subs’ bench.
The Glens should have been in front on 26 minutes when Niall Henderson’s cross was met by Gordon, whose header was arrowing into the top corner until Ross Glendinning somehow got a hand to the effort to deflect clear.
But the visiting fans were celebrating 60 seconds alter and this time Gordon made no mistake.
The diminutive Stewart picked up a Marcus Kane pass before delivering an inch perfect cross that found its way to the back post and the big midfielder, at full stretch, converted.
It could have been even better for Glentoran, had Gordon been a little more accurate with a header four minutes before the break after Stewart’s wonderfully flighted pass picked out the former Ards man.
But possibly against the run of play, Linfield levelled on the stroke of half time. Lowry’s surging run into the box. When he picked out Morrow he still has an enormous amount to do, but after cleverly turning his marker, he managed to rocket the ball under the diving Morris.
Glentoran were almost back in front on 51 minutes. He latched on to a long punt forward by Willie Garrett and, after holding off Jimmy Callacher, he could only drill his shot wide.
The Blues had another let off on 61 minutes when Henderson’s cross found the dangerous Allen and, just as he was about the pull the trigger, Mark Haughey popped up with a great interception.
But Feeney’s boys forged in front for the first time on 82 minutes when Waterworth sent Sproule clear and his finish was exquisite, slipping the ball under Morris.
Sadly, the former Hibs man had picked up a needless booking five minutes beforehand and, when he took off his shirt to celebrate, referee Andrew Davey this time pulled out red.
Glens manager Eddie Patterson rapped: “I thought we were the best team. We didn’t get what we deserved. I was delighted with the performance, particularly in the second half.
“I though Linfield’s winner was offside. I would have to see it again on television.”
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Richards (Reece Glendinning 65), Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Millar (Brown 84), Morrow (Clusas 88), Mulgrew, Sproule, Quinn.
Subs: Tuffey, Carvill.
Glentoran: Morris, Garrett, Kane (McKee 80), Scullion (McAlorum 63), Allen, Stewart, Henderson, Addis, Gordon, Holland, McCullough.
Subs: McCafffrey, Nelson, Hogg.
Referee: A Davey (Bangor).